The Truth About Being a Female Entrepreneur
The perception is that female founders are in a place of power, this not always the case, writes Jess Mouneimne
In my marketing business, my target market is startups mainly in the tech space. I love working with entrepreneurs and making magic happen with them for their business.
Because the startup space is dominated by men, I tend to have mostly male clients. This can sometimes present some challenges as a women business owner particularly with harassment in the workplace. It can be a subtle brush of a leg during a meeting or an inappropriate comment about your looks over a strategy session or even a more out right proposition.
Often, women do not speak out about sexual harassment in the workplace for fear of being ostracized or losing their jobs. The perception is that female founders are in a place of power, being the founders of our companies, and can therefore pick and choose who we work with.
The reality is that we are often desperate to make sales, raise funds or keep a large client happy, and thus often tolerate inappropriate actions in order to keep the sales funnel full.
Somehow, being an established woman in business with a portfolio of great work doesn't always matter.
Not equal yet
Whether it’s sexism or sexual harassment, the idea that women entrepreneurs are 'lesser than' than our male counterparts is still a reality in this game. A startup by a female founder is often not taken seriously and women entrepreneurs are often treated like second-rate performers.
"The perception is that female founders are in a place of power, being the founders of our companies, and can therefore pick and choose who we work with"
Just recently we had Justin Mateen, co-founder and CMO of dating app Tinder, saying that a startup with a young female co-founder "makes the company seem like a joke" and "devalues" it.
Recent reports of the goings on at Uber demonstrate the volatile ecosystem that many women in the startup tech space work in. Silicon Valley is full of stories of women entrepreneurs desperate to make it and unsure of how to navigate the landscape of groping men.
While the media may cover big cases of sexual harassment, where do women entrepreneurs voice their day-to-day incidents of sexism?
If we for one minute thought there was an equal playing field between founders and CEO's merely because we have climbed to the top of the food chain together, we were so incredibly wrong. If we were 'equal', we wouldn't need separate business awards for men and women or women-focused support networks in business.
My recent experience saw me take action and seek legal counsel. It has been an eye opening repeating my story to rooms of men. When I recount my experience the response from most are: "bastard," "bring him down". However, there are some that respond with "but what did you do the first time it happened?" or "hhmmm...it’s a tough one," and even "think of your business though, you don’t want to come off as whiny and deter people from doing business with you."
Something more subtle like sexual harassment rather than a sexual attack, especially in a country like South Africa where rape is a part of our daily lives, sometimes we are not clear about what has just transpired until it’s has happened a number of times and you have had a moment to sit alone with your thoughts. And by then, unfortunately, explaining your experience to a lawyer or friend, can raises eyebrows about whether you are a 'legitimate-enough victim'.
I don’t have the answers on how to make this massive issue disappear, but I do hope that through the network that I have set up, like the one I have launched, BeingBoss, female founders can, at least, feel like there is a group or space where they can be heard and not questioned.
About the author: Jess Mouneimne is an accomplished entrepreneur and author. Having cut her teeth as a journalist in her early professional career and then moving into the world of PR, Jess has a thorough understanding of the media marketing landscape both locally and internationally. Jess founded 360-degree communications agency, Jam Media in 2013 and together with her team have worked with some of South Africa's largest companies locally and are also branching into international territories as part of their 2017 strategy.